Photos are for memories, moments you cannot bear to ever forget. They can also be a way that people express themselves: through composition and careful artistic thought. Sometimes the best photographs are just a mistake. Other times, the photographer happens to be in the right place just when the beautiful fill moon begins to rise behind clouds of rain and storms that are headed elsewhere. Whatever the case is, what’s the point of capturing a scene if no one sees it? That’s why I joined 500px just over a year ago.
There’s not a community like it, nor will you find images equal to that of its contributors. You could call it the Dribbble of photography. In fact, even if the site were rundown, as Flickr now is, the photos would still keep it up at the top. But that’s not the case. In fact, Flickr has some major competition over at 500px. The question is, how much better is it?
The Matter of Design
Keeping a modern look is something fashion experts have been working to do ever since they started their jobs. It’s a hard thing to do, and developers have the same challenge. Take the folks at Yahoo’s Flickr division. They’ve kept the service’s main Web site in good order since its launch, but the design doesn’t really change much. Lately it has been pushing its mobile apps on users because the team noticed how popular pictures on-the-go have become. Instagram’s creator, for example, was soaring after he sold the mobile application to Facebook for $1 billion.
When it comes to Flickr, design doesn’t seem to be a concern. Maybe they know it’s easier for users to visit a Web site that stays the same all the time because it’s familiar. The sad thing is, people enjoy change. Since Flickr’s current path shows that it doesn’t think about new appearances, it’s hard to see the service lasting very long. If anything, the new mobile app will help it continue to thrive, but for how long? It’s not a competitor to Instagram as some may think, but rather a temporary solution until something better comes along. And something will.
Of course, one must remember that Flickr’s income may not be as high as it was before. That can affect the end design, usability, and overall appeal of the service, but it doesn’t mean the division should simply stop keeping things up to date. Users do not like a stale user interface, nor do they enjoy using the same product that was available years ago. That’s why when Apple releases something new, people jump to their feet just to get it. Innovation attracts users, not a consistent stream that never gets new snow from the winter storm.
500px, on the other hand, is much more fashionable in the way it presents its photos. The first time you visit the Web site, you’ll be appalled by how inviting it is. In fact, most of the photos the team decides to put on the main screen show that it is a truly professional vessel. You’ll want to sign up just so you can comment on the greatness of things that you see, which is a great sign.
Once you venture deeper into 500px’s sea of beauty, you’ll find even more to like. From the galleries to the subtle pages of individual images, it excels where Flickr has remained the same for years. Stories is an especially nice feature for people who like posting a photo journal of their travels, parties, and personal adventures locally. It can function like a photo-only version of the Facebook Timeline or as a nice way of presenting your journey around the world with each location to its own story.
It’s unique presentation like Stories that makes 500px worth using. Such things also make it fresh and appealing to a crowd bored of the same old thing.
Flickr has been known for its large community, but 500px is catching up. The one thing that makes 500px better than Flickr is not the amount of users, but rather the quality contributions by true professionals. It’s not a replacement for 1x or SmugMug because the former is comprised of only professionals and the latter is for people who want to pay a lot of money for a nice-looking portfolio. 500px offers a little of each, and its portfolio presentation is nothing short of great.
The one caveat I’d like to give about 500px is its exposure to the world of Internet trolls and spammers. I’ve seen countless comments on many photographs in which the person says “voted” or “please check out my profile”. Some of these were even on my own contributions. It’s a shame to see people making appeals on popular photos just so they can get their name out there.
You’ll also often see comments with one word of text. “Awesome”, “amazing”, “beautiful”, and other adjectives are the most popular words users describe images with. What happened to the spirited conversation filled with discussions about the composition and exposure of an image? Such things simply don’t exist on 500px. Instead, you’ll find a dull community that give you a one-word high-five. Once in a while you’ll come across another professional who cares to either analyze or critique your image, but not often enough.
Selling Your Shots
What if you could make money as a photographer? No, you don’t have to go to school, you just have to take images that people love. 500px gives you the opportunity to gain some spending money with your camera. Upload a photo, enable it in the store, and you’re all ready. Wait for someone to pay $2.99 for your photo as a wallpaper, or hope that one day someone pays a hefty $117.99 for a print on a canvas. You’ll make a profit off both transactions, so it’s worth uploading a high-definition image instead of a compressed one.
Flickr lets you order prints of your own photos, but there’s no such thing as having a nice canvas of your favorite photograph. This gives 500px the edge.
Finding a Monthly Plan
Flickr is still one of the cheapest photo sharing services available for people who are serious about the venture (not Instagram users). Its cheapest plan is just $6.95 for three months. If you’re looking for something more long-term, the Pro service costs $24.95 per year or $44.95 for two years. The second one is a great gift idea and a bargain compared to 500px’s pricey $49.95 per year for Awesome. Of course, 500px also offers Plus.
All of these names are confusing, I know, so let me explain what each of the plans offer. 500px’s cheapest offering, Plus, gives you unlimited uploads, unlimited sets for organization, and more advanced statistics than a free account. Awesome, on the other hand, gives you a personalized portfolio and a subdomain (you.500px.com) for it, the power of Google Analytics, a custom domain for your portfolio (provided you own one), and a fancy blue star beside your name.
Flickr has only one plan: Pro. It gives you unlimited uploads, unlimited viewing of your images (yes, Yahoo restricts how many photos people can view to 200), access to up to 60 groups, HD photo downloading, uploading and playback of HD videos, an ad-free experience (500px doesn’t have ads), and statistics for your account. While the 3-month plan is nice, Flickr is still charging more for unlimited uploads than 500px in the long term. However, you cannot upload videos at all on 500px, so it may be worth it for those who don’t already use Vimeo, or just the good old free YouTube.
But a Yahoo Account?
A big turnoff for people who want to use Flickr is the need of a Yahoo account in order to properly use the service. You can browse the Web site all you want, but if you actually want to contribute, you must sign up. The same goes for 500px and every other photo sharing service out there. With Flickr, however, you’re not signing up for just an account at that service. Instead, Yahoo requests that you sign up for an account there first, adding a bunch of superfluous features to your photo sharing — email, contacts, news, and all the stuff you probably already have from Google.
Now, if you already have a Yahoo account, things are as easy as signing in with it. You could use your Facebook or Google account too, but there’s no option to simply sign up for an account. This sort of requirement is present in many services on the Internet nowadays. Take Spotify, a music streaming utility. When it came to the U.S., the company decided it was time to partner with Facebook and only allow users of the social network access to the service. Spotify “went social”, so to speak. Flickr does the same thing and it hurts users who don’t want to use one of the three supported accounts.
500px, on the other hand, lets you sign up for a dedicated account with them. You can use your Facebook, Twitter, or Klout account, but you still have to set up an account with the service using your email and a desired password. It is the traditional way of doing things and some may scoff. There’s no reason to do that though because it’s still better than signing in with a full Yahoo account.
A lot of apps, Web sites, and services in general are great at some point in time. In the long term, though, it’s nice to see a dedicated developer who cares about the project. When it comes to Yahoo, it’s hard to know whether or not Flickr is on its list of things to improve over the years. Google is consistently updating YouTube; Apple keeps iOS fresh with slight user interface changes; Facebook continues to add features; and most companies care about innovation. The question is, does Yahoo?
In the past years, it doesn’t look like they do. There are only slight changes to the Flickr Web site with minor touches to the looks — nothing refreshing. Users like change, as I said earlier in the article. If Yahoo isn’t careful, it’ll lose many dedicated users to 500px, or another photo sharing service, because it isn’t keeping Flickr updated with the latest and greatest in the field. It’s not just design: you can’t sell photos, there’s not a good way to browse “popular” uploads, and there’s nothing like 500px’s Stories.
In the end, the truth is that 500px developers actually care about their creation and Yahoo has not shown that it does. I’ve been using it as a replacement for Flickr not solely because of the features but because of the people behind them. These people want to keep their design modern and continue to help photographers share their images and make profits with them. Flickr isn’t there yet, and it’s almost too late.